#wooliesweekend – Why "Social Media Folk" are failing big brands.

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*Update 7 March, 2012: You know, yesterday I noticed Coles being hauled over the coals (heh) for their own “Finish this sentence” faux pas. Although things were a bit different this time around (clearly, Coles did make a bit of a boo-boo by posting the update to their twitter account, as opposed to a moderated Facebook page), the same principles discussed below apply. Now, on with the show…*


Consider yourself a social media practicioner/strategist/consultant/whatever? I have news for you, kids. We’re failing. We’re failing our potential clients, we’re failing the big brands, and – ultimately – ourselves. Why? One simple four-letter-word.




What’s got me riled up, and waxing lyrical on an industry that I’m finding more and more petty? Well, to answer that I’d ask you to cast your memory back two weeks, when Tim over at Mumbrella happened to spot a post on Woolworths’ Facebook page which probably wasn’t rolling out the way they had planned. The “offending” post? A fairly innocuous status update that I would wager 90% of Facebook Page Admins have used in the past: a “complete this sentence” update.

#wooliesweekend "fail" post.

The #wooliesweekend “Fail” Facebook post…

Speaking as someone with a good amount of experience managing Facebook pages with a large amount of fans, I can tell you that the old “fill in the blank” update is a goldmine when it comes to inspiring engagement on your Facebook page. And engagement is the lifeblood of any page. Not only is it a vital part of Facebook’s Edgerank algorithm, it’s also a major “social proof” since Facebook made the “Talking About This” metric publicly available on any page.

So yes, I’ve used that very same status update type. And I’ve seen some incredible interaction rates from my fans. But – as with any post you put up on Facebook – the opportunity exists for your fans to turn it around and say something negative. That’s just the nature of the beast, and anyone who actually has experience running a page themselves should know that.

And unfortunately, that’s how it started to play out for Woolies. Some of their “fans” took the update as a chance to complain about everything from stock quality, to prices, to comparing them to their main competitor, Coles. And then Mumbrella posted about the comments.

Mumbrella’s post initially was fairly light on; a two-line post, with an image of the Facebook post in question. But then it started to gain some traction on Twitter. And that’s where any of us in the field started to lose a bit of our collective respectability.

Tweets began to fly through the #wooliesweekend hashtag, with gleeful calls of “Fail!”, “Social Media disaster!”, and various permutations of “Lols… big brands don’t get social media”. Below is a storify sampling parts of the timeline of the discussion.


As someone watching this unfold, I cried out into the darkness, “But how exactly is this a “fail”? Sure, it hasn’t gone the way Woolworths would have wanted, but it’s not a “fail”. It’s just a day-to-day hazard of opening yourself up to discussions.”

(side note: I never got an answer to that question, by the way. Not one that satisfied me. The only replies I received were ones telling me to “look at the comments. It’s a total fail!”. That argument is akin to travelling to a different country, and deciding that steadily repeating things at an increasing volume means you can speak the local dialect.)

You see, I have a dirty little secret to share: if you’re using social media, you’re going to get negative comments. That’s just the way it is. You deal with it, and move on. You adapt your approaches. And you learn. It happens to the best of pages.
Really, I think that’s where part of my frustration lies. I mean, “Social Media Gurus” are always telling brands to “take a risk. Join the conversation. Open yourself up to criticism”. And Woolies did. They took that scary step off the ledge. And people took the first opportunity to pull them down for taking that step.

The hundreds of marketing folks on twitter, gleefully rubbing their hands together cackling “Fail… fail… fail…” simply seemed to me to be the ultimate case of making a mountain out of molehill. When you get right down to it, the comments on the Facebook post were nothing that you couldn’t see on a hundred other pages. Here is something that happens every day on Facebook, but the vultures were hungrily swooping in to claim how they would have done things better.


Only, they weren’t.


99% of the commenters on Twitter were simply jumping onto the bandwagon, without adding any constructive criticism. And that brings me to the second point of this post: we failed, you guys. We failed Woolworths, and we failed other brands considering dipping their toes into the social pond.

All we’re doing is making our own work harder by offering only criticism, but no solutions. We’re failing our potential clients when we laugh, instead of lending a hand. We’re chasing them away, instead of offering them a glass of warm milk and a cookie. So let’s cut it out, and get to work.

Everyone says social media is maturing. Isn’t it time that social media marketers did the same?


What do you reckon?


(Disclaimer: Woolworths weren’t angels in this, either. They were a bit too happy with the delete button for my tastes, for one thing… but that’s a post for another day).

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  1. Solid post Matt. I missed the woolies ‘uproar’ I must admit, but agree that we collectively need to take a step back sometimes and think before we tweet / jump on the social media fail wagon…

  2. Great post. My department manages our business social pages and criticism is absolutely part of the norm. We embrace it, use it to find the vocal people and then try to solve their problems. More often than not we create loud noisy advocates for our brand by turning complaints around. We’ve seen many “incidents” on social that people quickly point at and laugh at, but more often than not there’s real opportunity there.

  3. Extremely well said Matt. The same people complaining about the Coles debacle never seemed to concerned with the farmers or the price of milk before yesterday. They also didn’t give Coles a chance to respond before calling it a fail. These are the same people spruiking “two way dialogue”; “open and transparent communication”; and telling brands “not to shy away from real customer feedback”.

    If I’m reading the online sentiment right, Coles, Coke, McDonalds and Woolies should just go back to safe broadcasting messages and keep control of their brand. Pretty much the exact opposite of what they’ll be telling us on their blogs/conference presentations/soapboxes.

    Social media foul, not fail.

    • Hey Mandy, thanks for stopping by. I *love* “social media foul”, it pretty much sums up what took me a whole page to say!
      Let’s see who is the first to get back on that soapbox you mention… hopefully their message will have matured.

    • Ditto to Matt,

      Love the ‘social media foul’ comment by Mandi.

      Although, I do believe that Coles should have thought about this fill in the blank statement a little bit more considering the twitter audience and current supermarket bashing that’s going on in the media right now.

  4. Just popped across this article, and regardless of its age thought it interesting this is considered a fail.

    Many businesses would have been encouraged to see this level of fail; branding at its best. Enormous coverage, enormous exposure and a brand that survived.

    I’m sure many of us would like a small percentage of that interaction on a question like “This weekend I will …” ;)

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